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The South African Water History Archival Repository (SAWHAR) project at North-West University (Vaal) and a historical overview of the Waterlit Collection
Expanded Title:This report consists of two sections. The first provides an overview of the progress made towards establishing the South African Water History Archival Repository (SAWHAR) at North-West University’s Vaal campus in Vanderbijlpark. Details are provided of the organisational structure and lines of communication established with key stakeholders, such as information scientists at the University of South Africa, the National Archives Repository in Pretoria and the Water Research Commission (WRC). Deliberations on the viability of a potential water history archive started in mid-2012 when a number of stakeholders in the water sector met with officials of the WRC in connection with research-related matters. At the time there was a need articulated for the conservation of South Africa’s water heritage. Consequently a number of stakeholders were identified. These included officials in the department of water affairs (DWA), retired engineers who were former officials of the department, officials of the National Archives Repository (NAR) in Pretoria, representatives of an engineering consultancy that has done considerable research for the DWA, as well as some members of the management at the WRC. In February 2013 a Water Dialogue sponsored by the WRC and focusing on the SAWHAR project, brought the initiative to the attention of stakeholders in the water sector and academia. There was considerable interest in proposals mooted for the establishment of an archive that made provision for the digitisation of material. Moreover, the idea was mooted that the SAWHAR initiative should become part of InterPARES, an international consortium of archival specialists with their headquarters at the University of British Columbia, in Canada. Part of the SAWHAR project included a donation from the WRC of the Waterlit Collection (WLC) that had been developed at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) between 1974 and the early 1990s. The collection was transferred from Pretoria to the library of NWU (Vaal) and ordered in a proper sequence as the first collection of SAWHAR in the first half of 2013. Several archival collections have been donated to SAWHAR since 2012. These include a collection of documents that were substantial enough for the creation of an archive of the Standing Committee on Water and Sanitation (SCOWSAS). Other archives that started taking shape included an archive of SAWHAR itself; as well as the personal collections of material by former DWA officials and water sector researchers. An electronic collection of materials collected in South Africa by a Finnish scholar, on the country’s water history, was also taken up as the first digital collection of SAWHAR. A request by the WRC, for their documents to become part of the SAWHAR digital archive, has had a most favourable response from NWU (Vaal) and the recommendation is that attention be given to the development of a strategy to accommodate the WRC archive in the new knowledge and research commons on the campus. In the report the need is discussed for a heuristic project aimed at collecting archival information that represents contemporary historical perspectives on water in South Africa. These sources need not necessarily be institutional in nature, but should be explorative and representative, specifically of community perspectives on the water history of every-day life in South Africa. Much of the information will form part of indigenous and social knowledge emanating from personal historical memories and oral traditions. At the outset of the SAWHAR project a number of concerns were articulated by senior representatives of South Africa’s water sector, that much of the information on the DWA, at its Pretoria offices as well as the many regional offices of the department across South Africa, were in danger of getting lost. Members of the SAWHAR team held talks with senior officials of the NAR in connection with the storage of the government department’s documents. It was evident that not all relevant materials from the department’s head office had been transferred to the NAR in the twentieth century. With the exception of a few small archives, hardly any material on the department was housed at the NAR in Pretoria. The talks also pointed to the problem that the NAR did not necessarily have sufficient space to accommodate all the department’s materials. Based on deliberations with current and former officials of the DWA there is reason to believe that attention needs to be given to measures aimed at preserving a part of South Africa’s water heritage as reflected in the DWA’s documentation. It is recommended in the report that a research and reconnaissance team consisting of an experienced archivist, as well as an official of the department of water affairs, in collaboration with a qualified historian, visit a number of regional offices of the department of water affairs in South Africa to: a) Make an assessment of the department’s local documentary material and how it is preserved. b) Compile a report on: I. the condition of the documents in storage at the regional offices of the department; ii. the relative importance of the available documentation; iii. the need for archiving the material. c) Establish relations with regional offices of the National Archives Service to negotiate for the accommodation of archival material of the regional offices of the department of water affairs. In a second phase a number of social science graduates should be appointed as officials in DWA. One requirement should be for them to have the subject of History as a major in addition to potential co-majors in Public Management, Library Science, Information Communications Technology, Political Science and/or International Politics. The graduates should also register for formal training, for example a postgraduate diploma in archival science, funded by the DWA. Graduates of universities situated in the regions where the DWA documents are located should be encouraged to undergo a period of in-service practical training. The graduate officials should then work in close collaboration with the records department at DWA’s Pretoria head office. In a second phase the officials (archivists-in-training) should be posted out to DWA’s regional offices where they should begin the ordering of the regional departmental historical records under the supervision of a local records manager. The material – preferably closed files dating back at least 20 years – can then be transferred to the nearest regional branches of the national archives repository. Ordering the records at the DWA’s head office and at the regional offices, should be done in close collaboration with the relevant local or regional offices of the NAR management. In the case of the head office of DWA, the dealings will be directly with the Pretoria office of the NAR. While ordering the hard copy archives, attention should simultaneously be given to the digitisation of the archives. It is advisable that the DWA take this responsibility. For material after 1980 there should be a significant corpus of digital documentary information available. That information should be consolidated with the assistance of officials in the respective information technology divisions. A number of officials, preferably with a matric qualification, can be employed for the digitisation process. It is furthermore recommended that the archiving initiative in the DWA be done in the context of the InterPARES system of documentary storage with a view to potential consolidation into the larger system in the future. In view of the fact that the objective is to develop SAWHAR as a digital archival repository, the first section of the report also deals with matters of copyright and digital documentation. While it is accepted that as an archival repository SAWHAR will focus primarily on the storage of primary documentary material for preservation and digitisation, there could be some legal implications if previously published material is copied and placed electronically at the disposal of researchers who are making use of the SAWHAR facilities. In principle the understanding is that SAWHAR is a not-for-profit initiative that aims to serve the interests of a research community in the water sector. Therefore all matters related to duplication and digitisation will be subject to the policy framework of NWU’s libraries in respect of copyright rulings. The history of the Waterlit Collection, which forms a seminal part of the SAWHAR project, is discussed in the second part of the report. The collection which is home to more than 300 000 items related to water was developed between 1974 and the early 1990s at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria. By the 1990s the collection’s catalogue was considered to be the largest of its kind in the world before its incorporation into an even larger international water database. The historical overview of the WLC narrates the history of the manner in which a hard copy collection of materials such as the WLC was influenced by successive waves of information technology transformation. What started out as a basic collection of seminal reports, articles and postgraduate academic studies later became a collection of valuable sources, administrated by as many as 400 library scientists working in different and diverse contexts. The historical discourse also makes disclosures on the way in which transformations in technology, ranging from the introduction of the personal computer alongside the institutional mainframe computer system, transformed the manner in which large amounts of data were stored. What began as storage on a CD-rom, later became part of a comprehensive catalogue that could be located and accessed on the internet.
Date Published:01/04/2014
Document Type:Research Report
Document Subjects:R & D - Information technology, R & D - Water history
Document Keywords:Policy and regulation, Technology
Document Format:Report
Document File Type:pdf
Research Report Type:Consultant
WRC Report No:KV 326/13
ISBN No:978-1-4312-0523-3
Authors:Tempelhoff J
Project No:K8/1032
Originator:WRC
Organizations:South African Water History Archival Repository North-West University, Vaal Triangle Campus
Document Size:416 KB
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